A new dinner is held by Carré des Feuillants. Christophe, a young sommelier who has already seen me several times opening the bottles has prepared everything when I arrive by 4:30 pm. The corks come out more easily that usually. I let Christophe smell the Clos Fourtet 1934 and he is amazed by the fact that we have a completely different analysis. He smells a closed wine. I smile, because I smell a wine promising to be splendid. The most spectacular bottle is the Haut-Brion 1918. This is my pride. The capsule is an original one with the name of the family Larrieu, owner at that date. The fill is in the neck ! This is due to a cork of an incredible quality which has completely played its role. The greasy mud between the top of the cork and the capsule shows that it is the original cork. By smelling, I am proud, as this wine will be perfect. The greatest problem is with the Haut-Sauternes 1867. The smell is so unbearable that I declare with no doubt that the wine is dead. The rest of the story will show that my judgement is not always accurate. What puzzles me is that the brown liquid seen through the glass of the bottle becomes pure gold when poured in a glass. I sip a drop, and curiously, the dead corpse is drinkable. So, I say that the opening of the reserve bottle, a Filhot 1935, will be decided just before the dinner, when I will smell again the wine. As the opening session was quicker than usual, I have time to wander in Paris, by a lovely sunny day which makes the Parisian girls and women as pretty as blossoming flowers.
When I come back, I smell the 1867 wine. It is ugly. So the Filhot 1935 is opened. Everybody arrives exactly on time (which is not a regular French attitude). 8 out of 9 guests are known by me, so the atmosphere will be smiling, animated, and Alain Dutournier, late in the night will tell me : “listening to your smiles, I knew that you were enjoying the party”.
The menu created by Alain Dutournier was of an extreme sensibility. Every combination was perfectly adapted, and with no side track as it could have been some years ago. We appreciated a lot :
Homard vapeur, amandes effilées, fraîcheurs du jardin, la pince en rouleau végétal
Cuisses de grenouilles épicées, pousses de roquettes, girolles en tempura
Tronçon de baudroie ficelé de pommes de terre, lasagne de chou tendre, fumet mousseux au raifort
Cèpes marinés, le chapeau poêlé et le pied en petit pâté chaud
Tendron de veau de lait dans son jus, barigoule de poivrade, chair de tomates anciennes, pistou d’aubergines, olives noires
Vieux gouda travaillé, truffe de Bourgogne râpée
Figues caramélisées, gingembre confit, crème glacée aux noix fraîches, craquant aux noix, compotée de figues, citron, cannelle.
The Champagne Richeroy Carte d’Or demi-sec # 1940 has a colour of apricot gold. The bubbles are not very active, but sufficiently to excite the sweetness of the wine. The structure is simple, but the champagne is full of joy. It is one of the many surprises for my guests who would not imagine that a semi-sweet champagne of this age could be so charming and impregnating, with a very astonishing length.
I had announced the Laurent Perrier Grand Siècle to be ca 1985. In fact, by looking at the cork and the wine, it is clear that it is 20 years older, so, let us say, circa 1966. The colour is ambered, The bubble is active, the smell penetrating. We are facing a very great champagne. On three different preparations of lobster, it changes its costume, to show how it can be elegant.
I took an enormous risk to present on the same course “Y” d’Yquem 1985, one of my beloved years for “Y”, and an Arbois reserve de la reine Pédauque 1933. We had to take care that the Arbois does not kill the “Y”. So, I said how to approach the two wines. The “Y” is absolutely elegant, showing by its nose the whole complexity of this special dry Bordeaux wine which has some perfume of the glory of Yquem. This one was not one of the most brilliant examples of this wine that I love. But it is more mature now, showing an agreeable serenity. The colour yellow green, the impetuous nose and its attack show a wine mature certainly but of a vibrant youth.
The Arbois 1933 is a captivating surprise, and I am as astonished as the rest of the table. It does not look like any known wine. It is heavy, powerful as an Hermitage, its grey robe is curious. In mouth there is caramel, coffee, but also some ideas of heavy luxurious red wines. It is a total enigma, full of charm.
The Chateau de l’Enclos, Pomerol 1976, if it were drunk alone in a quiet dinner, would seem very enjoyable. But associated with the Chateau Clos Fourtet 1934, it stays behind the scene. This wine makes the whole table shiver. I observe very frequently such moments when the table is completely puzzled. It is impossible for them to imagine that a wine having 72 years can be glorious, powerful, and lively as this one. Nearly at the same moment two guests said : “the oldest of the two is the 1976”. So, I told them this : “if you tell what you have witnessed to friends, they will never believe you. It is impossible that someone believes what you say if he has not tasted the wine by himself. This is the demonstration of the fact that it is so difficult to let people accept that such old wines can be so great”.
And my guests were killed once again by the next wine which came. The Chateau Haut-Brion 1918 which was in such a pristine condition performed at the level that I could expect. The whole table was conquered. One guest told me : “tell us the truth, you have put a 1986 Haut-Brion in this bottle”. They were amazed, and I was amazed by another fact. Every 1918 Bordeaux that I have opened recently have been, all of them, amazing : Mission, Léoville Las Cazes, Haut-Bailly (four times), Mouton d’Armaillac, Montrose, and some other were all great. In this case, this Haut-Brion has the perfect balance that one expects from a great Haut-Brion, the advantage of age being that all is better integrated, more complex, and with a greater length. It has not the youth of a 1961, but beats it in complexity.
On the next course, we come back on familiar tastes, but the surprises are there too. The Richebourg Gros Frères 1987 is founded on an elegant subtlety for which power is banned. The colour is pale, but the wine is not fragile. An impressive trace in mouth made of elegance and complexity.
On the contrary, the Côte Rôtie La Mouline Guigal 1989 is a flash ball, this gun that the police use to stop any aggressiveness. It is as if Cassius Clay would punch on my heart. I nearly faint with the perfection of this wine. What amazes me and with me the whole table, is that you lose completely your will, as if the Mouline was a rattlesnake, capturing your eyes to kill you. This wine is perfect. A blockbuster of course, but mixed with a shining complexity.
The Vouvray le Haut Lieu Huet 1919 excites the table, as almost all attendants have drunk some younger versions of this wine. So, they are all scrutinising what is the input of age. The quince, the litchi, the mango are there as can be expected. Everyone is happy, and I am a little more reserved. Because this bottle reconditioned by the Domaine is too clean, too perfect. Of course, what we drink comes from 1919, but when a wine is too clean, it is not what I love most. The sediment belongs to old wine. A 1919 wine with no sediment is like a shaved pubis. It’s not spontaneous.
I begin to explain that the Haut-Sauternes D. Lafon propriétaire 1867 is dead, but my glass is filled. The golden colour is impressive. I smell, I drink, and I begin to think that there is a rebirth. I wanted to say : just have a sip and then concentrate on the Filhot 1935, but we drank all the bottle of the 1867 wine! The wine expanded in the glass and we had a rather dry Sauternes, not flashing, but really drinkable. Nobody would have bet a dime on such a wine when I smelled it first some 7 hours before. If one accepts some imperfections, the length is there, the orange fruits are there, giving a charming testimony of 139 years of age. It is a curiosity, and it helped to make shine a real star : Filhot 1935. This wine is for me an archetype. It shows the pure definition of a Sauternes not devoted to power. This wine that I have frequently drunk is for me a milestone. The subtleties, the taste of green and yellow fruits, are delightful. Once again, the youth is impressive.
The greatest combination has been with the cèpes (mushrooms) and the Haut-Brion 1918.
We have voted and on 12 wines, 8 have got one vote (each of the 10 persons giving his 4 preferred wines). To get 8 wines with votes pleases me of course. Four wines got votes as first, The Haut-Brion got 4 votes as first, the Mouline 3 votes as first, the Clos Fourtet 2 votes and Filhot one vote.
The consensus vote would be :
1- Haut-Brion 1918
2- Arbois 1933
3- Mouline 1989
4- Clos Fourtet 1934
5- Filhot 1935
My vote has been :
1- Clos Fourtet 1934
2- Filhot 1935
3- Haut-Brion 1918
4- Arbois 1933
If La Mouline is not in my vote, it is because it would not add much to its glory. But I enjoyed it enormously.
As it happens very frequently, nobody wants to leave the table. So, we talk and talk and talk. A friend of mine offered an Armagnac Laubade 1964 to the table to continue endless discussions.
Late in the night, I thought that this dinner was extraordinary.
Old wines are younger than what is generally considered